By: Daniel Tossounian
Having ventured further out from Honolulu’s downtown urban landscape and encountering Waikiki car and moped rentals I decided it was time to hit the open road and got behind the wheel of my intrepid Toyota minivan and navigated down said open road for parts unknown. Well, that could be a slight embellishment in that the open road was in fact the H2 heading up towards the town of Wahiawa in the vicinity of historic Wheeler Airfield and the equally historic Dole Plantation estate…So much for parts unknown. Just outside the town of Wahiawa between the juncture of the 99 and 80 highways is a little Jem of a hospitality business which I first thought was cross between rest stop and tourist destination. The designation while being partially accurate was nevertheless far from being definitive. What I had fortuitously happened to find was Green World Coffee Farm and Plantation. And that boldly declared designation is not hyperbole.
Founded in 2013 by its name-sake Howard Green, an established and successful commercial real estate holder on Oahu, Green World Coffee Farm, located at 71-101 N. Kamehameha Hwy., Wahiawa, is the entrepreneurial dream of businessman who wanted to ‘follow his bliss’ as it were and chase his twin passions of coffee growing and accommodating visitors to the Aloha state. Curious folks who happen to cross paths with Green World Coffee farm will encounter will immediately encounter the very spacious gift shop and cafe where a wide assortment of fun and memorable merchandise can be purchased…that would be the tourist part. Additionally, one can sit down with family and friends and enjoy a smoothie, a cappuccino or a scrumptious locally made ice cream brand which would make Ben and Jerry scowl with jealousy. And of course, this is the cafe part of the establishment.
However, these two enterprises are not the main event…by a long shot. Green World coffee farm is just that, a fully functioning coffee farm upon which six of its seven acres are fully dedicated to growing coffee plants whose beans are harvested and made into a special brand which are packaged and sold in the gift shop or sold to other markets on Island. Howard Green, the resident owner, also maintains a coffee garden juxtaposed to the retail shop and cafe. There he gives impromptu guided tours in which visitors will receive an informal and thoroughly enjoyable lecture on the basics of coffee bean cultivation and by doing so provides visitors with a tutorial on a coffee bean’s journey from the vine to our drinking mugs.
After regaling me with a fascinating personal lecture on this process Mr. Green allowed me to ask a few questions of my own.
Me: Upon observation of your business and considering the backstory you gave me; I’ve concluded that you are among the minority of people …the fortunate minority… that have been able to ‘follow their bliss’ as the saying goes. You love coffee, and you like people …furthermore you have combined those two passions into a going concern.
I do …I love all those things; I love the customers. The customers who come here are just like my own family. They’re nice people. They’re here to have a good time and it’s because of them we’re Doug well. They usually don’t know anything about coffee at all, or what makes coffee really good. We teach them that so that when they go away from here, they have the best ability to have the best cup of coffee …every day.
Me: Well, the ironic thing is that coffee is, specifically in America, ubiquitous…you can hardly avoid it if you tried. In fact, I could find coffee in China while I was there without much effort. Would you say you are offering a special experience with a commonly consumed product?
Yes, I would say that although coffee is ubiquitous, coffee that is properly prepared so that you get the best flavor Isn’t ubiquitous. That isn’t a usual thing and it’s why we offer samples to our customers so they can taste the difference from our coffee to the coffees they’ve been used to their whole life.
Me: Yes, I think they will gain a new appreciation for something that has been a daily part of their lives. I mean I had never seen a coffee plant up close until I went to your garden just now.
Each plant has flowers, and each flower has a cherry, and each cherry yields two beans. And by the way the flowers smell like gardenias become the coffee pant is related to the gardenia.
Me: There you go I have learned something again…However I did know that Hawaii is the only state in the US that grows coffee plants.
That’s true, that’s right. They could grow coffee …and I think they do in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, but the mainland isn’t south enough. The plants can’t survive too far north of the equator. Hawaii is within the acceptable latitudes and is cool enough that the plants can be grown closer to the ground.
Me: So, Hawaii besides being the ideal surfing spot …is the ideal coffee growing spot.
Me: Let us talk about Covid …the elephant in the room. How did it affect you?
Well since we are a takeout place and are a take-out place since we sell coffee in bags, we were considered a grocery business and allowed to stay open. During the lock down time period of April and May our business was seriously harmed. Our business was about sixty percent of normal …so we didn’t make any money and we didn’t lose any money.
Me: Not making money and not losing money means, what?
Means that I was able to make my payroll and still cover expenses During that time period…so we survived that time period into, the visitors started coming back.
Me: But you did say you lost revenue…40 percent. That is a hard hit.
It’s a very hard hit, but when you lose revenue, you also lose over-head. So, we were working at what people would call a break-even basis, doing most of the covid time period. During the two worst months. But we made it through, we’re so happy to see the visitors come back. You know we love the visitors.
Me: So, you can say you weathered the storm, which is the name of the series. Weathering The Storm.
Yes, yes I think so. As long as people like really good coffee, as long as people like to come to a place that welcomes them and appreciates them…we’ll do fine.
Me: I cannot think of a better place to end. Thank you.
At this point the series reaches its terminus. I must attest that my expectations were not only met but exceeded. And what were those expectations? Well, I had expected to encounter small business proprietors who would through clenched teeth as it were relate stories of grim survival in the face of an unprecedented economic catastrophe…and that was what Covid was by any definition. What I discovered was anything but grim. I encountered individual stories of perseverance by hardy entrepreneurs who refused to buckle to the uncontrollable forces which threatened their dreams. Wings ice cream, Local Joes coffee shop, Pho Que Hong pho shop, Feng Shui arts and gifts, Tinas Leis, Waikiki rentals and Green’s coffee farm…all a microcosm of Hawaii’s small businesses, all individuals and/or families who had a dream and refused to allow the storm of a pandemic or the economic meltdown it wrought to curtail that dream.
I was frankly very moved by the individuals I met, and I further realized that the products, services and individually applied expertise offered by these small business entrepreneurs greatly enriches us all, if not for any other reason than by simply giving us extra choices, or variety to use another term and as one wise individual once said…variety is the spice of life.